Character and The Competitor
I have been a competitive athlete for going on a decade now. In college I was team sport athlete and since then have slowly migrated across a various field of individual sports, immersing myself in the world of body building, Olympic weightlifting, and most recently I have found great passion in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
For those who don’t know I attended college at the United States Military Academy at West Point. While the academics are rigorous the academy places a premium on each student being an athlete. Aside from the obvious carry over of the importance of fitness in the military there is a long-standing tenant that athletics is pivotal in character development.
As freshman each of us had a book of information that we had to memorize and recall. Included in this was MacArthur’s Opinion of Athletics:
“upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.”
While I have always appreciated the opportunities that I had attending the academy the display of true character in athletics is one that I didn’t fully appreciate until I began my practice in BJJ. In those first weeks on the mats it doesn’t matter how strong, how fast, or how talented you are in any other activities you might participate in, the mats are the great equalizer. If you come in cocky, you will quickly find yourself humbled, tapping out before you may ever realize you’re in a position of danger, likely by someone smaller and younger. However, if you step on to the mat ready to learn, you receive the keys to unlocking your own development.
In Vino Veritas
Some will say that wine brings out the truth, well I’m here to tell you that facing the complete unknown brings the greatest truth. I competed in my first tournament after training for a short 7 months. Warming up for the No-Gi section of the tournament, I looked to my friend Chris who was with me and said, “I think I’m going to throw up”. My ability to self-regulate in the face of an “unknown” had not been developed. I was a slave to my thoughts and responses and found myself unable to settle and stay present in my matches. Thankfully, this improved over the duration of the tournament and ended in a successful finish. Most importantly I left the mats with a roadmap for development and a few key realizations.
1. Vulnerability is the truth serum of a competitor’s character.
2. Presence in competition is earned.
Insecurity can manifest its ugly head in many different ways, for me it altered my mentality and turned my demeaner from calm and ready to an anxious mess. In that tournament I came to understand that insecurity was a weakness in my character. I had allowed the influence of life and my environment to alter my trust in the training put in and the ability of myself. I was relying on a good outcome to affirm my individual worth when I was already more than enough.
In BJJ, as well as many other sports, the ability to stay present is paramount in the athlete ability to think critically and navigate through the chaos. This ability was a critical developmental step for my performance and life.
Don’t Give a “f*ck about they”:
The ability to find peace in the present is earned. It is a result of diligently clearing out the bullshit of opinions, negativity (internally and externally inflicted), and comparison while devoting time to the training and practice of self-reliance. This was beautifully displayed at my second tournament while I was watching our academy’s youth athletes.
Children simply do not give a f*ck. They are simply too young to be tainted by the need for validation in their performance a whole heartedly focused on the most immediate task at hand. While watching a couple of my favorite littles, we noticed that one of the girls in the pit was completely knocked out, completely relaxed. We then went on to watch her get woken up and step out on to the mat and absolutely crush it.
It was a powerful observation and I carried it with me into my own matches the following day. I had spent the last few months clearing out negativity and distractions and embraced the moments that were in front of me.
I said goodbye to:
· Perceived guilt from not preparing “enough”.
· Overtraining (compounding too many varying physical goals).
· Caring about things that did not serve my own growth on and off the mats.
I accepted where I was at and trusted in my training. As a result, my mentality matched my physicality. I was able to stay calm and collected and think through my movements, be explosive when necessary and settle once control had been gained.
Scio te Ipsum:
In the beginning there are very few of us, myself included, who start the path from an altruistic point. We are initially captivated by the flashing lights surrounding any given endeavor. We grow up in a winner takes all society that rewards high performers. While there are many accolades that come with exceling in the competition, there is no greater victory than the ability to know thyself. Understanding your drivers and triggers, learning to master them so that in the face of chaos you flow, turning weakness into strength. Ultimately peaking in our development to achieve self-actualization. Only then have we unlocked our true potential.